So the Inverness game didn’t provide the momentum boost we required to go into Wednesday night. I don’t think we were terrible today, but we weren’t good enough.
The cutting edge is lacking. The strikers were nowhere. Both goals came from defenders, which scares me more than the loss of two at the other end. Because even if we keep it tight on Wednesday, we need goals.
Do you see this strike force getting them?
The team looks nervous. The team looks disjointed. Injuries are piling up. Kayal going off today is the latest in a long line of them. From thinking, last season, we were well covered in all the key positions, I look at the squad right now and see a threadbare side, lacking real quality in the key areas. What the Hell has happened to us?
The one positive today is that the heads didn’t go down after the second goal. They could have. The players found something, and we got something from the game. But the glaring holes are still there. The problems remain, and they are as clear as they ever were. This is a team that needs freshening up. A goal scorer is a must. And a creative midfielder.
We have a goalkeeper who can inspire awe and, in the same game, cause you to put your hands over your face. Why can’t this guy command his six yard box better? Good keepers can save their defenders from their mistakes. Great keepers make defenders better, because they inspire confidence, and that takes the pressure off the people in front of him. After complaining – bitterly – about the sale of key players I will sound like I’ve left the path of sanity, perhaps, but I wouldn’t have been terribly concerned had Forster left. He looks sensational one game and a bag of nerves the next. I worry about him sometimes. I worry about everything, it seems.
I’ll tell you who I don’t worry about. Ajatic. Every time I see this young guy he impresses me. When he came on today I thought he looked sharp, and good on the ball. I think we’re watching the development of a real star here. I think he’ll be a first team player in no time. I also like Rogic, and I’m impressed by Van Dijk. I wish I was more impressed by Balde, but he’s settling in and we’ll see. I see reasons to be optimistic, if we add to the talent already here.
But first comes Wednesday, and with today behind us it becomes ever more apparent that what we’re going to need most is a home crowd that’s firmly behind the team. With things not looking so hot on the park the first thing that needs to hit the Kazakhstan side when they come out of the tunnel is Celtic Park itself, with the crowd in full voice.
Other sides, better sides, bigger sides than them, have come to Celtic Park and been blown away before the match even started. That’s what needs to happen on Wednesday night if the team is to have a prayer of getting something out of this tie. The decision to reinstate The Green Brigade was a good move by the club, one which you’d have to be mad not to realise was a PR effort, to get the supporters back onside in time for an enormous match.
Nevertheless, it’s the right move, at the right time.
European nights at Celtic Park are special events. Everyone who’s ever been at one knows that. The one that sticks most in my mind was the night Nakamura scored his sublime free kick against Manchester United. That game had everything. I told my mate afterwards that I believed – and I still do believe this – that for a wee while there, we had the greatest free kick taker in the world plying his trade at our club. I saw him hit so many of those, so many impossible goals, so many weird and wonderful angles. On a big night he delivered something extraordinary.
Celtic Park brings that out in players, when the crowd is behind them, when the players feel that surge of adrenaline. Some of the biggest teams in the world have come to our ground with the swagger of winners and left as dejected losers. Celtic Park has an almost mystical power when the atmosphere is right. We will need it.
Wednesday will test us. It will test our ability, our character and every ounce of skill the playing squad possesses. It will test the supporters, but on that one I have no fears, because the supporters have always come through. The supporters have always made their contribution, even on those evenings where what was happening on the field didn’t match the level they expect.
The supporters are Celtic’s great 12th man, and if we’re going through it will be those wonderful fans who make it happen.
The team is not playing well. The forward line looks lightweight. People who think we will score four, or five or six see something I can’t.
But Celtic Park, under the lights, with the sounds of 60,000 people roaring the team on?
Well, that might just make the difference.
There’s no place like home.
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